They seem to pop up out of nowhere: tiny bugs the size of gnats that love landing on your food and flying wildly around your head.
However, fruit flies aren’t as mysterious as they first seem, and can be fairly easy to get rid of once you know how. Be warned, their presence isn’t simply a problem, it’s a symptom of bigger issues that need to be addressed.
Getting to Know Fruit Flies
There are actually two major species of fruit fly to contend with in the US: the common fruit fly, and the Asian fruit fly. There are some differences between the two, although they thankfully can be eliminated using the same methods.
Common Fruit Fly (Drosophila melanogaster)
Also known as the vinegar fly, this is the species you’re most likely familiar with. Originating in Africa, this species is now present in all known corners of the Earth.
They have yellow bodies and black bands around the abdomen, with the male being slightly smaller and the tip of its abdomen being solid black.
They live approximately 50 days and the females lay small clutches of five eggs at a time on rotting or overripe fruit, producing as many as 400 eggs in her short lifetime.
The larvae have varying development times based on the temperature and other conditions around them. They feed on fruit sugars, as well as microorganisms that have developed in the rotting fruit. The mother will intentionally defecate on the fruit to help start these microbial colonies.
Asian Fruit Fly (Drosophila suzukii)
Originating in the Orient, the Asian fruit fly made its way east to Hawai’i and California, and has been spreading ever since. It can also now be found in several European countries and some Asian countries outside of the Orient.
This particular species is known to devastate fruit crops, especially orchards and vineyards. Even worse, the later in the year they hatch, the longer they live.
An Asian fruit fly hatched in September may live as long as 300 days and lay up to 300 eggs. Add to that the fact that as many as 13 generations can be hatched in the course of a single year, and it’s a nightmare waiting to happen.
The two most distinguishing features of Asian fruit flies are the black spots among the tips of a male’s wings, and the female’s habit of injecting her eggs into fresh, newly-ripened fruit. Their bodies tend to be yellow to brown with black bands along the abdomen, much like their cousins.
How Long Do Fruit Flies Live?
As mentioned above, this can be a very misleading question because the lifespan of Asian fruit flies is greatly varied.
The shortest lifespan from ova to death can be as short as a couple weeks (an Asian fruit fly laid and hatched in late winter to early spring) to about 50 days (common fruit fly) to 300 days (Asian fruit flies born in autumn who then overwinter).
In most cases, you will thankfully be dealing with common fruit flies, which breed heavily but die out quickly.
Where Do Fruit Flies Come From?
Well, when a male fruit fly falls in love with a fe… Oh, You’re asking why you have fruit flies when you don’t have fruit? That’s a much more (or less) interesting answer. Simply put, fruit is the preferred medium for egg laying but far from the only one.
As fruit rots, it produces excess sugars and vinegar. The vinegar is what attracts these pests, as it suggests an active microbial community for the larvae to feast upon. For this reason, fruit flies will also lay eggs on meats and in garbage.
In the case of meat, the cold of your refrigerator can cause the eggs to remain dormant for a short period of time, so when you finally allow the meat to sit on the counter for a couple days, the eggs will hatch into maggots.
Thankfully, cooking the meat will destroy any eggs present, as well as eliminate any harmful bacterial left behind by the mother.
Garbage can be a lot more confusing, especially in winter. Simply put, there was likely contaminated food you threw out during meal prep. It’s also possible a fruit fly made its way into your home after hitching a ride from the grocery store and set up home in your garbage can.
Fruit Flies vs Gnats
While similar in size and annoyance, gnats are very different from fruit flies. They have dark grey to black bodies with drooping legs and a long, more pointy body. Gnats are also far more likely to be found infesting your houseplants, as they nest in soil and feed off of plant matter.
Related: Getting Rid of Sweat Bees
Getting Rid of Fruit Flies
Theoretically, this is one of the few pests on this site where this section could have been appropriately labelled “How to Kill Fruit Flies”, since nobody outside of a scientist would have need to keep fruit flies alive and there’s no obvious ecological benefit to them (quite the contrary).
So rejoice, all you bloodthirsty readers, this is one critter you can slay to your heart’s content!
There are a lot of options out there for people who wish to purchase their solution, many of which will also work on other pests.
#1 – Traditional Fly Strip
The most infamous of these solutions is the fly strip such as the best-selling Catchmaster fly traps.
These sticky strips of plastic are covered in glue and come in cylinders that are then pulled to the desired length and suspended above areas where fruit flies like to appear.
The good news is these cheap solutions will attract the flies which then get stuck to the glue and die. The bad news is, you, your family, and your pets will also constantly get stuck.
Works on hoverflies and other insects as well.
#2 – Garsum Sticky Trap
A much better (yet similar option) is the Garsum sticky trap. These traps are all-natural and non-toxic, plus they’re designed to be stuck into flower pots instead of suspended.
The only real downside to these traps is that you can’t simply place them on a counter or hang them without some creativity, but they’re cheap, effective, and can be used almost anywhere (once you rig them to hang, that is).
We suggest using a needle and fishing wire or thick thread before peeling away the protective paper for an easy hanging solution.
Be warned that these will NOT attract your fruit flies on their own. You’ll need to place some bait nearby (such as a small scrap of banana peel, strawberry top, etc.) and the flies will quickly meet their doom.
While it may not be the best fruit fly trap ever created, these are high on the list.
#3 – Bug Zapper
A third popular option is to use a bug zapper such as the popular LiBa Bug Zapper. These can be incredibly effective at both killing bugs and providing food for your carnivorous plants. They’ll work on most flying insects and tend to require only a small amount of power.
The biggest downside is that they’re most effective at night when you’re not in the room. This allows it to become the primary light source, drawing insects towards it naturally and electrocuting them instantly and painlessly when they pass through the protective barrier and touch the wires.
DIY Fruit Fly Trap
A homemade fruit fly trap is more than a remedy, it’s a fun craft for the whole family!
Begin with an empty 20-ounce soda or water bottle and cut through the plastic where the curved part meets the cylindrical sides. Simply flip the top over, tape it flush with the bottom portion, and pour in about an inch depth of vinegar. Apple cider vinegar works best, but you can also add white vinegar in a pinch.
These traps work off of the window principle. A fly is attracted to the smell of vinegar, climbs down the hole, and gets stuck. Once inside, they’ll either starve or drown despite a big opening directly above them.
Alternatively, you can take a jar lid or similar small container and add some apple cider vinegar to cover the bottom. Toss in a drop or two of dish soap and any hungry flies will be killed on contact.
You can clean out your drains using bleach, but that can be harsh on your plumbing. Instead, use white vinegar and baking soda or a blend of hydrogen peroxide and water. Both of these will kill any pests (including fruit flies) breeding in your drains, while helping to reduce the risk of clogs.
Finally, one of the most absurd (but effective) methods of killing fruit flies requires… a single lemon.
Simply slice the lemon in half and stick both halves into your oven on the top rack. Leave the door cracked open and go about your business.
After a few hours (or when you come home from work), close the oven door and activate the broiler setting. You can turn it off again after about 10 minutes and discard the lemon. This not only draws fruit flies into the oven where they’re soon toasted, but it leaves your kitchen smelling nice.
The downside is you have to sacrifice a perfectly good lemon, so we suggest getting a metal jar lid and filling it with concentrated lemon juice instead. In both cases, you may wish to clean the oven before using it for food, but it’s an extremely easy and effective solution.
Related: How to Get Rid of Horse Flies
How to Prevent Fruit Flies
You’ll most often find fruit flies in the kitchen, as that’s where the majority of rotting material will be found. But an infestation can also happen elsewhere.
Chances are, those fruit flies cropping up in your living room, bathroom, or bedroom or elsewhere in the house are the result of leaving behind leftover food, trash, or dirty dishes.
While it’s true fruit flies can hitch a ride into your home or fruit may already be contaminated, you keep these critters from making your home their nursery by eliminating these factors. Begin by always sealing any rancid food trash in grocery bags, especially if you can’t store trash outdoors between garbage pickups.
Cover any fruit bowls with a clean towel when not in use and never leave bread or any other food item open. Regardless of where you are in the house, always dispose of uneaten food and never leave dirty dishes lying around.
When possible, tie smaller garbage bags tightly if they have food in them to prevent attracting fruit flies.
Of course, ensuring the spaces around your windows and doors are adequately caulked will go a long way, despite fruit flies being able to enter through screens.